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San Francisco enacts ban on foam cups, coolers, toys

Staff Writer |
People in San Francisco won't be able to buy polystyrene foam coolers, kiddie pool toys or packing peanuts after supervisors approved a measure that goes far beyond the prohibition in dozens of other cities and counties.

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Environmentalist are cheering San Francisco's ban as the most comprehensive by a large U.S. jurisdiction on the cheap insulating foam that cushions goods and keeps drinks hot or cold.

They say the lightweight plastic is extremely slow to decompose, and it pollutes waterways, harming marine life and birds, Janie Har writes.

Detractors, however, say the legislation does nothing to stop foam-wrapped goods that are shipped into the city—such as heaters, computers and just about everything else—defeating San Francisco's stated purpose of reducing waste. They'd rather San Francisco recycle the product.

What's formally known as "expanded polystyrene" is the latest plastic to be targeted by cities and counties, much like the single-use plastic bag, which San Francisco outlawed in 2007. Most people recognize the material by its brand name Styrofoam, although Styrofoam is not used to make disposable cups or packing peanuts.

The San Francisco measure builds off a 2006 ordinance mandating food vendors and restaurants use recyclable or compostable carryout containers. That meant no puffy polystyrene.

Cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon, followed suit. New York City tried, but a state judge last year overturned a ban on plastic foam containers and packing peanuts, saying they could be recycled.

A 2015 study found 8 percent of microscopic particles found in the San Francisco Bay were identified as foam, likely from polystyrene products, said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the nonprofit San Francisco Estuary Institute. Overall, the amount of plastic bits found in the bay was seven times greater than in Lake Erie, which is the most polluted of the Great Lakes.

"It's a timely response to recent studies that show the San Francisco Bay contains an abundance of micro-plastics, including foam fragments, that come from plastic products that fragment easily," said Miriam Gordon, California Director of Clean Water Action.

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